Spotting Online Trends

A good online media planner is also a good trend spotter. Just like the broadcast television buyer who will aim to buy spots on shows that he or she thinks will gain popularity to get the best bang for the client’s buck, online planners need to be able to spot up-and-coming trends on the Web and figure out ways to capitalize on them.

The Internet is unlike any medium we’ve seen, insofar as consumers keep finding new ways to use it every day. Unlike television, which broadcasts one way and serves basic information and entertainment needs, the Internet user can find new ways to exploit its two-way communication channel; as a result, the Internet continually reinvents itself to provide not only information and entertainment but also useful applications.

Not all Internet applications initially support advertising or marketing opportunities. In fact, many might resent the presence of a marketer or an advertiser. However, some might be eager to talk to you about an ad-supported model. You may be surprised that some Web applications start out as spare-time projects that explode in popularity before their creators can even think about a business model that will support the application in the long term.

As a planner at an agency that placed the first national advertising brand on Vindigo, I’ve learned to try my best to spot trends and leverage new, uncluttered advertising and marketing platforms on behalf of clients. The following are some new applications that seem to be gaining popularity on the Web:

  • Web logging. Remember how the Internet was going to turn average citizens into publishers? Web logs come through on that promise. They’re basically Web-based diaries that individuals or small groups of people can post to whenever they feel like it. Fans of Web logging call it “blogging” for short, and they refer to the logs themselves as “blogs,” thus introducing yet another word that is simultaneously a noun and a verb into the interactive lexicon.

    Blogging has been made somewhat easier and streamlined by applications such as the one at Blogger, which developed an application that allows users to manage posts and publish them to the Web with a single click. The application takes 10 minutes to set up and can be integrated into almost any Web site. Blogging is thus gaining popularity rapidly; and although Web users may see the application as a new, cool tool, I fail to see how sites such as Blogger can support themselves from a revenue perspective. Blogger’s user base will continue to grow, and eventually it will incur some serious hardware and bandwidth costs, at which point it will need to generate some cash flow. Maybe there’s a way to implement an ad-supported model?

  • Dispute resolution. Ever had a friend who stiffed you on a bar tab? Or maybe your roommate leaves dirty dishes in the sink for a month. In either case, sites that handle dispute resolution are becoming particularly popular. One such site is i’m right you’re wrong, which handles the dispute resolution process in a humorous and entertaining fashion. Anyone with a gripe can use the site to send an email subpoena to the person who makes his or her life miserable. This action kicks off a mock court proceeding in which juries consisting of other site users ultimately decide who is right and who is wrong. Definitely cool for those of us who want to collect on the $50 owed by a fraternity brother for eight years running. And definitely an application that could use some corporate sponsorship (maybe an insurance company?).
  • Virtual communities. I’m not talking about sites where you get 10 megs of free disk space and a place to put your personal Web site. I’m talking about virtual places where people congregate online or make use of applications that make it easier to keep in touch. One such site that’s becoming very popular is Classmates. Once you look up your high school and see names of people you haven’t talked to in decades, you’re hooked. But it’s not just the value proposition that’s compelling. It’s also the tools that allow you to keep in touch with old classmates and do things such as manage the entire process of putting together a high school reunion event. The tools are easy to use and understand. So easy that my dad, who usually needs help with any piece of technology more complicated than a digital clock, is not only paying Classmates a fee to use its service but also using the site to organize a class reunion.

It’s important for online planners to track online trends. Studying them will show you where the eyeballs are heading
— and, more importantly, why they’re headed in that direction.

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